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City of Columbus to pay $5.75 million to injured protesters

Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch via AP

Ohio’s capital city has agreed to pay $5.75 million to people injured during last year’s racial injustice and police brutality protests, plaintiffs’ lawyers and city officials said Thursday.

The payouts will vary based on the extent of protesters’ individual injuries, and will be determined during a series of private meetings with a special master hired to review each case, said John Marshall, the lead attorney in the federal lawsuit brought by 32 injured protesters against Columbus. At least three plaintiffs said they suffered broken bones.

The settlement also finalizes details of a federal judge’s ruling earlier this year that ordered Columbus police to stop using nonlethal force such as tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets on nonviolent protesters who aren’t harming people or destroying property.

The settlement announced Thursday “mandates that peaceful protestors on city streets and sidewalks cannot be subjected to uses of force, arrests, or dispersal orders except in extraordinary circumstances,” Marshall said. It also provides protections for street medics, journalists, and legal observers, he said.

Columbus City Council is expected to approve the financial settlement next week.

At issue in the federal lawsuit was the city’s response to protests that began in late May after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who earlier this year was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Lead plaintiff Tammy Fournier Alsaada, a community activist, was pepper-sprayed without provocation after receiving permission to walk through a line of police to discuss the arrests of some protesters, according to the July 2020 lawsuit filed by the injured protesters.

Another plaintiff, Terry Hubby Jr., testified that he joined a May 29 protest and was struck by a nonlethal police projectile that shattered his knee, requiring surgery and the insertion of 20 pins and a plate. Video of the incident revealed that officers fired the projectiles while a police loud system issued an order to disperse.

Police also testified about facing chaotic and threatening situations.

“People were walking up to us with bottles and opening them and throwing, like, unknown liquids on us, yelling in our face,” Officer Anthony Johnson said, according to court documents.

Gino Brogdon Sr., a retired Georgia judge, will serve as special master determining the individual payouts. Brogdon also negotiated the historic $10 million settlement the city is providing the family of Andre Hill, a Black man shot a year ago by a Columbus police officer as Hill walked out of a garage holding a cell phone. Adam Coy, the since-fired officer, who is white, has pleaded not guilty to murder and is scheduled for trial next year.

Columbus protests lasted multiple days downtown, near Ohio State University, and across other parts of the city. The first night, protesters smashed windows at the Ohio Statehouse and businesses throughout downtown.

In a separate episode, U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty was hit by pepper sprayas scuffles broke out near the end of a May demonstration.

A report released last spring that Columbus was unprepared for the size and energy of the protests and that most police officers felt abandoned by city leadership during that time. The report, commissioned by the city council, also found the city had no advance plan for handling such protests, and suffered from a lack of coordination and even regular communication among city leaders once the protests began.

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